Seamus Heaney a highlight of Kate O’Brien weekend in Limerick

Alan Owens

Reporter:

Alan Owens

THE NEWS that the former home of famed Limerick author Kate O’Brien is to be restored and potentially returned to the city as a writer’s museum created a positive buzz that lasted throughout the 28th literary festival held in honour of the author in Limerick last weekend.

THE NEWS that the former home of famed Limerick author Kate O’Brien is to be restored and potentially returned to the city as a writer’s museum created a positive buzz that lasted throughout the 28th literary festival held in honour of the author in Limerick last weekend.

However, large crowds at each one of the many events that took place over the course of the Kate O’Brien weekend also helped to add to fuel the feel good factor created by the announcement made by the Mayor of Limerick Cllr Jim Long on the opening night of the festival.

The mark of any successful festival is in the quality of its speakers and the Kate O’Brien weekend did not disappoint, with poets, writers, journalists, musicians and actors from varied walks of life featuring over the three days of the festival.

The undisputed highlight for many was the exquisite performance by Nobel Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney in front of a packed house in Mary I’s brand new Lime Tree Theatre on Sunday morning, where Ireland’s greatest living poet regaled the crowd with some of his most vivid work.

Heaney drew both gasps and laughter with his witty and evocative language and, in particular, tales of how each poem came to be and why they were written.

Two poems in particular stood out, A Peacock For Daisy - written on the hoof at his wife’s suggestion as Heaney had forgotten to bring a present for a new born child - and Out of the Bag - containing stirring imagery of a young Heaney’s beliefs on the origins of life.

Speaking to the Limerick Leader after he delivered the lecture, Heaney said he had been invited many times to the festival but had hesitated, as he was not an expert on the author’s works.

“I always knew of this weekend and I thought you had to be an expert on Kate but it became clear that it was ok for me to attend,” he said.

“The weekend is clearly a great success and I got a great reception. I often visited the college here when I was teaching, but in latter years not so often. It is nice to be back,” he added.

Discussing Kate O’Brien’s works, Mr Heaney said that two books in particular stood out for him.

“I read Land of Spices and Mary Lavelle and I was astonished at the intelligence of it all,” he said. “She writes about her characters quite a lot as well as letting them speak for themselves, she is not afraid to do that.”

Closing the festival, organising committee member Eileen O’Connor said: “It is the speakers that make each weekend fresh, new and exciting”.

With a cast that boasted Susie Boyt, novelist, columnist with the Financial Times and daughter of famous painter Lucian Freud, novelist John Boyne, sociologist Dr. Niamh Hourigan, poet Katherine Towers, Prof. Margaret Harper of the University of Limerick, journalist Frank McNally of the Irish Times, abbot of Glenstal, Mark Patrick Hederman and many more, this was absolutely the case.

Ms O’Connor returned to the mayor’s announcement in her closing remarks, which she said was “great news”.

The mayor confirmed to the Leader later that a ‘wealthy local businessman’ was the mystery purchaser behind Boru House, which was built by Kate’s grandfather, Thomas O’Brien, in 1880.

The “mystery millionaire”, as Cllr Long referred to him, who has business interests in the city, is set to restore the Mulgrave Street house and is examining options as to what potential use it will have.

“I am currently exploring ideas, but you can rest assured that it will benefit the city and community culturally,” said the purchaser by way of letter. “I am looking at perhaps a combination of a writer’s museum and maybe a presence for the University of Limerick School of Architecture.”